An Indian Civilizational Perspective

A Tale of Two Trains

Was standing in a crowded Boston “T” Orange line train going to downtown, when I heard a voice in Hindi “Haan, main kaam pe jaa rahi hun.. ” (I am going to work..) A beautiful looking Indian girl was talking to her family back home in India and telling them what she was doing. The customary calls to her family as she was trying to start her life in Boston.

Travelling by subway trains is an interesting experience. Various people with different thoughts running in their minds come across you and you can enjoy all that if you are a keen observer.

As the Orange line came to a halt at a station, two old ladies walked in and sat in the same line as me. One guy sitting across was playing on a small Video Game console. The ladies got interested as they saw him play furiously along. One of the older ones probably in mid-80s could not control her inquisitiveness and walked over infirmly while balancing herself in the moving train. She stood next to the guy and started looking at how he was playing. The kid was amused but kept playing. Now, she really wanted to understand what it was and what he was playing… so then he started explaining the entire concept of the video game consoles. “How much can I buy one of that for?” The old Grandma was clearly going to have a go at it soon with her friend. When you are past 70, your friends list must grow pretty thin I imagine. Whoever is left is either by default a “good” friend or somehow tolerated as one. But these two old dames seemed to be distinctly lucky to have their best by their side… with their Zest for life all intact.

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Another mid-aged and heavily drunk guy – trying hard to conceal his state, as all drunk do – wanted to know what the weird design was on a young kid’s jacket. So, he asked him to turn around so he could see it clearly. “What does it mean? Something religious?”, he inquired. “I have no idea dude, I just liked the thing!”. He kept asking the kid to model while he could take a closer look at the various messages he thought were etched all over the jacket .. probably so he could decipher what the Aliens were trying to secretly convey. Until he realized he had missed the stop. “You did it to me!!!” He shouted at the kid, as he ran out of the train. Huge laughter and an amused kid were left behind in the train, while I smiled.

In India too, in Delhi the train ride is an interesting journey. People are growing more wooden as the trains grow. Back in those days when we were growing up and everyone on the street was an “Uncle” or an “Aunty”, implying an inbuilt and immediate relationship; is now going away. In train, everyone seems to have found a way to enjoy their music. And that is the one main difference between the trains in India and the US (Boston and elsewhere) – while people in US are reading books, people in Indian trains are listening to their MP3s!

That is why the phone models are very important, as they double up as the MP3 players, as the cameras and as phones as well. They play a lot of roles.

Even amongst the growing wooden-ness you see some human moments.

One distinctly rural and traditional family was sitting on one side – a new bride (with face covered in saree), another young but slightly “dated” bride, their Mother in Law and one of the grooms with his kid. On the other side was a couple – distinctly Urban with an MP3 hooked on to headphones .. one end in the female’s ear and another in the man’s. Sitting next to them was some “Foreigner” (probably mid-eastern or European). The guy with the kid had put the kid on the floor as the kid – one year probably – wanted to take a stroll. He held him with both his hands as the kid took his steps. He seemed to have made a nice eye contact with the One-Headphone-on-One-Ear Gal on the other side, who loved the little cute baby! So, as the kid moved one step, the lady gushed. The kid’s Dad, proud of his son bridging the immense Indian divide, asked him “Aunty ke paas jaana hai?” (You want to go to Aunty?). The “Aunty” on the other side stretched her hands, while the “Foreigner” lady amused at the scene stretched hers to help as the kid was picked up by the One-Headphone-on-One-Ear Gal. Then she and her partner kept playing as the women on the other side remained smiling. They were not bothered or afraid but just happy to share their own “bundle of love” with someone who still hadn’t had the experience of one. The lady kissed the kid and kept asking inane questions, while the “Foreigner” kept looking totally perplexed and amused!

Finally, the Dad walked across and retrieved the baby as they had to disembark… and the whole party with covered and semi-covered and smiling faces walked out with the kid who had just successfully crossed the many traditional DIVIDES that beset the Indian populace without still having learnt to walk even a step on his own (heck he hadn’t learned to even stand as yet)! I am looking to the time when this kid – and others like him – start walking this vast country!

Meanwhile, I heard another voice “Haan main office jaa rahi hun… Aap Boston mein kya kar rahein hain?”. (Yeah, I am going to my office, what are you doing in Boston?).

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